The attention of the Brazilian nation, not to mention the whole of Latin America, has this season been riveted on the exploits of Robinho and Carlos Tevez, the two brightest stars in the Sao Paulo state championship. Surely destined to become major players on the global stage over the coming years, these 21-year-old wonderkids are already perpetuating the endless rivalry between Brazil and Argentina.
Born on 5 February 1984 in a working class district of Buenos Aires, Carlos Alberto Tevez, more commonly known as 'Carlitos', is the latest in a long line of youngsters spawned by Boca Juniors and tipped to follow in the footsteps of one Diego Maradona.
Robson de Souza, or 'Robinho', is 15 days Carlitos' senior, having entered this world on 19 January 1984 amidst the slums of Sao Vicente. But already, all of Brazil regards him as the "greatest wizard with the ball" since the era of Pele and Garrincha.
In contrast to most of their respective compatriots who have left to try their luck in Europe, these two supreme goal poachers both lack impressive physiques. They could even be described as pocket-sized strikers, with the Argentine Tevez, who stands 1.73 m and weighs in at 77 kilos, even managing to make his Brazilian counterpart look fragile at 61 kilos and 1.72 m.
They also have other more crucial factors in common: an uncanny eye for goal and typically South American ball control. But apart from these natural gifts, they could scarcely be more different.
'Carlitos' the eccentric
Tevez has already made a major impact on football's financial side when the deal that took him from his hometown Boca Juniors to Corinthians for a figure in the region of $22m shattered the transfer record between South American clubs. The structure of this deal took up many column inches in Brazil and even provoked a judicial inquiry.
"I am an idol but I am not respected. People never leave me alone. If I go out to a café with friends, then I'm a drunk. I've decided to leave Argentina, not for sporting or financial reasons, but for personal ones," grumbled Tevez before joining Sao Paulo, at a time when he was regularly splashed across the pages of the tabloids courtesy of a string of high-profile flings and some Maradona-like scrapes, most famously with a taxi driver. It is fair to say that in daily life, as on the field of play, there are no half-measures with Tevez.
Robinho is a much quieter character, who has not forgotten that Santos rescued him from financial insecurity when he was playing for Portuario. Since being offered his shot at the big time, he has rapidly won over the notoriously demanding fans at the Vila Belmiro, the stadium where the shadow of Pele still looms large. Courtesy of his incredible technique, inch-perfect passes to his midfield partner Diego, now departed for Europe, not to mention his crucial goals, Santos have been able to recreate their glorious past by lifting the state championship in 2002 and 2004.
The first rung for Robinho
But all this success has not yet gone to the head of the diminutive Brazilian, who devotes all his time to the game with which he maintains nothing short of a love affair. Incredibly, Robinho believes that he still has plenty of room for improvement, particularly in physical terms. He does not view it as work, however.
"I still have the same pleasure and hunger I've always had. In both training and everyday life, football for me is pure joy," he declares with his ever-present smile.
On 13 February, in front of an adoring Vila Belmiro stadium, Robinho outshone an out-of-sorts Tevez by scoring two goals as Santos led Corinthians a merry samba in the course of a resounding 3-0 defeat.
A week before this bill-topper, a poll in the newspaper Lance revealed that 59.3% of Brazilian fans felt that Robinho was "better" than Tevez (4,857 votes compared with 3,334). Nevertheless, it is Tevez who has been crowned Latin American footballer of the year for the last two seasons.
"So," mused the influential O'Globo, "if Tevez is worth 20 million dollars, what does that make Robinho worth?" The answer no doubt lies with the European football moneymen, most likely those of Real Madrid, even if Robinho apparently has a predilection for the football played by Barcelona.
Whatever the ultimate destinations of these two 'phenomenos', their duel is sure to continue to captivate a continent for some time yet.